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Little Literature

March 18, 2010

Over the years, our children (okay, let’s be honest: we) have accumalated a large library of picture books. Because I am a creative, I imagine that I must look at the illustrations in a different way to real people, but I still think that everyone picks books because they love the artwork; it’s why some books become bedtime classics and others do the rounds of the charity shops.

There are certain themes and concepts within children’s books which never seem to age or grow tired:

  1. Pirates What is it about pirates? From my meagre investigations, a pirate’s life was pretty grim; a combination of desperate measures, violence and a poverty-line existence coupled with sharing a small, dirty boat with sociopaths and thieves (like a P&O booze-cruise to Calais, then…) But little boys love pirates. You couldn’t do a children’s book about armed robbers or rapists, could you? Maybe there should be a modern day version, see how parents like that: Once upon a time off the coast of Somalia, there were a merry band of pirates who had a motor launch and GPS. ‘I see an oil tanker,’ said Kali, ‘we can blackmail those Esso dogs for millions.’ So they opened up both Honda engines, put fresh magazines into their AK47s and set chase. With a yo-yo-yo they threw some fragmentation grenades on board and emptied a clip into the air before seizing the ship. With a quick YouTube torture video and an electronic transfer they were all home in time for tea…
  2. Dinosaurs My favourite t-shirt – ever – for kids is this one. Kids just love dinosaurs. It must be that they’re monsters that are no longer a threat?…or that there are so many of them and they have mental names?…or is it like when an artist snuffs it and their work becomes more valuable? I can’t really figure it out. Natural history museums – on paper – should bore the crap out of kids, but they love ‘em. Even the Geneva Natural History museum which, in comparison to others in the world, is crap, They have one whole dinosaur skeleton of a Fondueswissarmyknifemoustacheasaurous and it always makes the kids jump up and down like they dropped an MDMA.
  3. Princesses You’d have thought that kids would have gone for the head honcho, but no, they go for the next in line for the throne. Possibly the reason that little girls love princesses is because it reflects their own life – which is weird, because I don’t live in a castle, have a throne, wear funny hats, have shit loads of disposable income, have my own security detail or have one parent who is Greek and another a nazi. The real reason is the opportunity to dress up, wear tiaras (which are cooler than crowns), clippy-cloppy shoes and flounce about. If only real princesses were like that…well, they do seem to share the same level of common sense of a pre-schooler.

I’m sure I could think of more, but I reckon that these are the main ones. Anyway, these are some of my faves:

Dr Suess – Any Dr. Suess books are totally nuts with no relationship at all to reality or the laws of physics and because of that they are brilliant. Not only are the illustrations totally awesome and bonkers, the books are great to read (Fox in Sox being a personal favourite) with amazing rhymes and tongue twisters. Books need to work for the parents as well as the kids and these books do that in spades. Timeless classics.

Charlie and Lola – Any I bloody love Charlie and Lola – I used to hate them, for some inexplicable reason, but I love them now. I adore the exploration of childhood imagination and the total embracement of that. Kids totally get it. The illustrations are bold and accessible with funny writing and quirky characters. The TV show is a perfect translation of the books.

Captain Flynn and the Pirate Dinosaurs Bloody genius, this. Dinosaurs? Check. Pirates? Check. Pirate Dinosaurs? Oh yeah! The drawings are an acquired taste, but my kids love them. The story is really fun and totally random, packed full of funny little bits and asides.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? This book was recommended by a friend (cheers Mortalbug) who said that his kids went bananas over this. He was right; this book was a bedtime favourite for years and not only teaches good sleep habits but also teaches kids about different types of dinosaurs and is beautifully illustrated  - massive illustrations in a Rockwell-esque style. First in a series, but the others ones are just not quite as good though.

Imagine Simple idea: fill pages with as many animals as possible and get your kids to name them. Simple, but lovely, illustrations and a genuinely great idea, this book kept my son occupied for a long, long time.

There are more, but I can’t think of any off the top of me noggin. Finally, these are the ones I hate:

Mog Books – Any Look, I went to art school – and a decent one at that – so when I look at her books all I can think is that she draws like one of those gorillas they teach sign language to. i.e. shit. Perspective is all over the place, her people look like survivors of car accidents and inhabit her books like depressed zombies (what other type is there?) and Mog itself is just a sausage with legs. ‘But, they were part of my childhood…they’re timeless classics…’ Bollocks, she draws like a ‘tard.

Thomas the Tank Engine – Any I don’t mind the ‘animated’ series, but I can’t abide the books. It’s just a blame game, innit? Engines grassing on each other, being mean for no reason or trying to do things too quickly. Why? For that fat, tyrant bastard The Fat Controller – the rotund, blue-blood oligarch who uses his dictitatoral powers to inflict shame and petty punishment upon the engines that are anthropomorphisms of Rev Audry’s fantasy children. Kids and the clergy? No.

Maisy – Any I hate that big-arse mouse (I know I have changed my colours on this one – but I’m an adult, I can)

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 9:51 pm

    Some great stuff here. Thanks

  2. faerieshadow permalink
    March 19, 2010 12:44 am

    Great books! Pirates, Princesses, knights, and dragons are favorites around here.

    • March 19, 2010 7:37 am

      Knights! Dragons! I knew I forgot a couple of catagories…

  3. hypnoswiss permalink
    March 19, 2010 8:20 am

    because i couldn’t comment on your post about music (we are stuck in the 90s) I can at least add my two pennies worth to your kid lit post…Hairy Maclary, Slinky Malinky and all their canine and feline friends…we love them! the rhymes, the daftness of these animal “capers” and the fact that you think it is Scottish and it turns out to be set in New Zealand (check out the whacky plants in the illustrations)

  4. March 19, 2010 1:37 pm

    Ah, I forgot about them – they are brilliant. I really love the illustrations in Slinky Malinky, they make me jealous…

  5. MariaL permalink
    March 20, 2010 10:12 am

    Got to agree with the Mog and Maisy – they don’t darken the bookcase at our place. We all seem to like the Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler books, and I have a particular soft spot for the Shirley Hughes stuff. The illustrations capture little children beautifully, even if they are a bit dated now. Lastly, this week we have just started Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, which are laugh out loud funny (and quite un-PC). Illustrations by Quinten Blake. Genius.

    Oh, and we all like Hairy Maclary too.

  6. March 21, 2010 4:19 pm

    Nuts – totally forgot the Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffer books. They are properly good children’s books with great rhymes and beautiful illustrations. Love Snail on the Whale.

    Want you guys to come to Swizzerland!

  7. March 23, 2010 8:39 pm

    Love this post. One of the best things about being a parent is all the books you get to read with them. We really enjoy the Pirate Dinosaurs, and I’m totally with you about the Thomas Tank Engines series. Talk about yawnsome; do you think the esteemed Revd. wrote them to put his children to sleep? It certainly works a treat for me. Anthony Browne is one of my all-time favourites. So much detail in his illustrations, and so many levels both they, and the stories can be read on. Gorilla should be made as mandatory as milk. I can’t wait to read Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Senses to the children, it’s a magical eco yarn with a really winning hero. Gratifyingly, the children often prefer ‘stories from your head, mummy’ and we’re having lots of fun at the moment with Captain Dribble on the Bad Ship Dragonfire and Captain Smart (and his mermaid wife) on the Good Ship Lollipop. Not so wonderful as those beautifully behaved (but miraculously un-nauseous) Charlie & Lola, but chock full of treasure, wooden legs and baddies in the briney hold. Tee hee, sorry to write a short story instead of a comment!

    • March 23, 2010 9:15 pm

      We do ‘brain stories’ as well (what our kids call them).

      Will check out Anthony Browne – haven’t heard of him.

      We’re reading a book called You Choose at the moment which has pages full of houses, asking the question: where would you live? Pages full of food: what would you eat? Etc. Good fun.

      I can’t wait to get into proper long-form stories.

  8. RigaudJohn permalink
    March 26, 2010 7:19 pm

    Will DEF try to make Swizzerland soon! We will be a couple of hours (or so) by car from you in June so maybe something can be hatched…?

    Loving the blog….just catching up following Disney. Will read the parenting one next!

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